K-Gr 2—There are two sides to every story, as demonstrated by dual versions of one dramatic tale like this one. The first is read front-to-back and the other back-to-front in this sea-worthy picture book featuring seals and a rock upon which to perch. The story that proceeds to the right introduces a mother seal and her calf hoarding their rock while emphatically shooing others away. The opposite one (proceeding in the other direction) features them welcoming their new friends to "make our rock your home." The story's palindrome format uses simple words yet is intricate, and requires repeated readings and extensive reflection. Given the same two words and options, which would a reader choose: to reject or accept? The reference to the worldwide refugee situation is clear, but the message could just as easily refer to helping or rebuffing one's peers in school. The concept is brilliant, further enhanced by gentle pastel watercolors, but there are some confusing elements. While it is implied that the seal and pup are the ones dismissing the others, the illustrations don't consistently make this clear. It is even confusing to keep track which two are the main narrators of the text among the several seals portrayed. Still, as a springboard for discussion about personal choice, acceptance, and different points of view, there is a great deal to savor here. An alternative picture book with more clear-cut illustrations to match a clever text would make a bigger and more effective impression. VERDICT A unique book with enormous potential sure to inspire some, but potentially confuse others.—Etta Anton, Yeshiva of Central Queens, NY
This poetic picture book reads forward and backward, revealing two narratives about sharing and welcoming.
"This rock is ours," declares a trio of seals. But what does "ours" really mean? Washy, blue and gray illustrations of a watery landscape span full spreads as a group of gently anthropomorphized seals confronts an outsider seal and its pup. Pops of color include green sprigs, pink sea stars, and yellow beaks and feet on observing sea gulls. The seals' facial expressions feel a little mismatched with the text in the first read—perhaps as a result of the challenge of creating two narratives with one set of illustrations and words. The initial front-to-back reading witnesses the group of seals shooing the seal-and-pup pair away even though the duo has nowhere to go. The final page reads: "No room on this rock? Can it be true? / Read back to front for another point of view." Reading the book backward, readers find a story of welcoming using the same text in reverse. For one-on-one sharing or a read-aloud with an engaged group of children, the chance to re-explore the book from back to front to derive different meaning is an opportunity for playful reflection. Large, simple black text throughout employs italics for direct emphasis. The narrative around sharing and welcoming can be scaled for diverse age groups.
Gently clever. (Picture book. 4-7)